PLACE OF QUIET: The St Therese Prayer Garden is kept green to invigorate people as they arrive.
PLACE OF QUIET: The St Therese Prayer Garden is kept green to invigorate people as they arrive. Jack Lawrie

Keeping alive the gardens of prayer

LIKE other properties, St Therese's Catholic Primary School has had difficulty escaping the spell of hot, dry weather that has tormented Monto, and indeed most of the Burnett, in the past month.

The school has various small gardens as well as a large sports oval the faculty has been forced to let go of until the weather cools.

However, the front entrance to the school has been diligently maintained, with golden hedges and a vibrant garden area greeting people as they arrive.

Legacy of Nano Nagle

Principal Chris Ferguson said the decision was made to prioritise keeping the front garden alive.

"Being a Catholic school, we have this set up as a prayer garden,” Mr Ferguson said.

"St Therese is called 'St Therese of the little flower' and her flower was the rose.”

The garden was established as a prayer garden about 10 years ago.

Roses were planted in the prayer garden two years ago on the school's 75th anniversary, but the main plants currently residing in the garden are hardier plants that can survive the heat.

The garden features a timeline of Nano Nagle, founder of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who came from Ireland and founded the school 77 years ago.

The lantern monument was created by Brett Benecke for the 75th anniversary, with a plaque listing all the presentation sisters who taught at the school.

According to Mr Ferguson, the lantern is the symbol of Nano Nagle, who lived in Ireland during the period of English penal laws, which forbade Irish Catholics from being educated.

During that time, she would go out late at night to teach children under lantern light.

These lessons were said to be taught in hedges, where they could hide from passing authority figures, hence the link with the hedges planted at the school.

Maintaining the garden is a three-person effort between Mr Ferguson, who looks after the hedges, administration officer Lorraine Muller and groundskeeper Julie Keitley.

"Julie will come in on the holidays and mulch and weed the garden, I do the hedging and some of the watering and Lorraine chooses plants from Gerry's Nursery,” Mr Ferguson said.

Geraldine is an ex-parent whose child left the school last year.

Children normally keep out of the garden, except when doing the annual school history lessons, where they walk through the Nano Nagle timeline.

Coping with the dry

Though the staff do their best, even the prayer garden has started to dry up in the hot weather.

Mr Ferguson said they were basically just trying to keep it alive.

"It's not really thriving at the moment, it's just surviving,” he said.

"In the rain, all of these (murrayas) come out in the white flower.”

Most days the sprinkler will run every couple of hours.

Outside of the prayer garden, the school has a small garden area in the main area.

Various bushes and shrubs purchased from Landcare are set up, primarily as a bird's nest.

This garden is kept mulched and shady so kids can explore it during recess.

When the garden flowers it has hibiscus, paperbarks, agapanthus and more.

"It had more flowers on it just last week - as you can see they've dropped,” Mrs Muller said.

"They're a pretty tough plant but these have just keeled over,” Mr Ferguson said, pointing out a bed of Moses in the cradle.

Past the garden is a decorative archway draped in jasmine, leading to the St Therese vegetable garden, currently left unattended.

Usually, students would learn to grow vegetables in the gardens, which are then sold to a local supermarket.

"Once we finished up at the end of last year, it was pointless to try and keep it going over the holidays and it's just been too hot to start up again since,” Mrs Muller said.

The garden isn't likely to resume until after Easter holidays, when the children will be able to plant winter vegetables.

It also has a few citrus fruit trees growing, including oranges, lemons and limes.

Ultimately, the faculty needed to weigh up which part of the garden was worth keeping watered during the dry climate.

A small patch of oval is kept green for sport, but most of the oval is left dry, partly because it's too big to keep green, partly because the children don't mind.

"It's just a bit sad at the moment in this weather, so we've focused on keeping the front alive,” Mr Ferguson said.

"When you're not helped out with rain, Julie and myself are watering a section every day.

"It's a nice lift to enter and exit through that (front) area, so that's our focus.”


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